Nanaimo council debates rolling out new garbage plan

NANAIMO – The city will purchase two automated-ready garbage trucks as politicians debate further additions to the fleet.

City of Nanaimo refuse collector Brian Fairbrother will have lifted 700 bins of hot, stinking, seeping kitchen scraps by the time he finished his Tuesday route.

If he’s on the road with one of the city’s split-packer trucks, handling a mix of garbage and kitchen waste, those repetitive movements go up.

Maggots and rats, dirt, dust, glass and needles are also a risk. Fairbrother had a near miss last week with a needle with a broken safety tip.

Don’t get Fairbrother wrong, he likes his job, but a garbage fleet with automated arms would just be a lot safer.

“It’s a lot less stress on the body, a lot less chance of being injured, a lot less exposure to the dust, needles, sharps, other bad stuff, right,” Fairbrother said.

The City of Nanaimo is purchasing two automated-ready garbage trucks that will come into service next year, while politicians consider automating the fleet as part of budget talks.

Nanaimo city council agreed to spend an estimated $800,000 on the two trucks and on Monday (July 6), Charlotte Davis, the city’s manager of sanitation, recycling and public works administration, will re-introduce the idea of swapping out Nanaimo’s 10-truck fleet for eight new automated garbage trucks and 90,000 curbside bins. The $6.8-million plan was previously proposed in April.

It’s critical to consider automation, according to Davis, who says the system is stretched with a mix of staff injuries and downtime with the fleet.

Customized split-packer trucks, purchased for more than $1 million four years ago to handle kitchen waste, are experiencing mechanical problems.

Last year there were also 33 employee injuries, amounting to $429,000 in expenses for the city. The idea is that automated arms picking up new standardized bins would boost safety for workers and allow higher productivity. The city could also take recycling in-house and standardize curbside bins, although residents would see higher user rates over a three-year roll out period.

Coun. Jerry Hong doesn’t want to buy anything until after the city conducts a core review, and  also believes the city should do a trial run with partial automation to see if it makes a difference in injury claims. Coun. Diane Brennan, however, pointed out that a core review can’t assess health and safety standards.

“Are we prepared to allow our employees to work in an unsafe environment when we could change that?” she asked.

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